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By Mariah Worman



The What, Why and How

By Mariah Worman

Learning Target:

I can define reading comprehension. I can identify two vocabulary and two syntax activities to help build comprehension.

What is comprehension?

  • Put simply, comprehension is understanding the meaning a text.
  • It involves not only being able to proficiently read the surface code, but also using the textbase and existing background knowledge to truly understand the meaning behind the text
  • How can we make sure our students are not only good decoders but can also make sense of the text they are reading?
Proficient reading requires the skills to “visually process the individual words, identify and access their phonological, orthographic, and semantic representations, and connect these representations to form an understanding of the underlying meaning”

DIBELS 8 Connection

Take a moment to open your class' DIBELS Maze data. We will be using this data to indentify students in need of a comprehension intervention.

Source: Kendeou, P. van den Broek, P., Helder, A., & Karlsson, J. (2014). A cognitive view of reading comprehension: Implications for reading difficulties. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 29(1), 10–16. https://doi.org/10.1111/ldrp.12025

Today, our focus will be on vocabulary knowledge and syntax.


What are the factors that impact reading comprehension?


Turn and Talk: What are your initial thoughts about this? How can we use instruction to stregthen these skills for our students?

Background Information

Strong Foundation in Decoding

It is no secret that comprehension is a difficult task for young students to learn. It is also no secret that many teachers struggle with strategies to improve their students comprehension. That is why Nancy Lewis Hennessy released her book, The Reading Comprehension Blueprint. This text breaks down the skills necessary for comprehension and gives teachers practical applications that they may use in their own classroom with their students to improve reading comprehension and help develop reading proficiency.

The Reading Comprehension Blueprint

Source: Hennessy, N. (2020). The Reading Comprehension Blueprint. Brookes Publishing. ISBN 13: 978168125403
  • Vocabulary knowledge and word recognition have a large impact on a student’s reading comprehension.
  • Studies have shown that “vocabulary knowledge was a stronger predictor of reading comprehension than cognitive ability” (Fisher & Frey, 2020, p. 31).
  • Students need both direct and indirect exposures to new vocabulary for them to stockpile in their internal dictionary. In order to support student’s vocabulary, teachers must:
1. Provide a rich and varied language experiences 2. Teach individual words explicitly 3. Teach advanced word-learning strategies 4. Foster and encourage word consciousness

Connections to Vocabulary:

  • Helps students review words they know and learn new vocabulary words
  • Using a sentence or a sketch, students can help solidy their newly learned vocabulary words and definitions
  • Helps activate prior knowledge

Vocabulary Strategies: Vocabulary Rating

Source: Read Naturally. (n.d.). The 5 Components of Reading: Vocabulary. https://www.readnaturally.com/research/5-components-of-reading/vocabulary
  • "A vehicle for connecting words to their relatives, such as synonyms, antonyms, examples, multiple meanings, and other related words" (Hennessy, 2020, p. 69)
  • Helps students to understand word-relationships
  • Contributes to a better overall understanding of an unknown word

Vocabulary Strategies: Semantic Mapping

The connection between vocabulary and comprehension is undeniable. Students will not be able to comprehend what they are reading without a good understanding of the meanings of the words in a text. Therefore, the importance of teaching and exposing student to new vocabulary words cannot be overstated.

Source: Child and Family Blog. (n.d.). The Vocabulary Gap and Its Long-Term Consequences for Children. https://childandfamilyblog.com/vocabulary-gap/#:~:text=Children%20who%20have%20grown%20up,they%20are%20less%20likely%20to

Vocabulary and Comprehension

There is a myriad of research supporting and connecting vocabulary knowledge to overall reading comprehension. In fact, it has been found that "word meaning is both a contributor to word reading and a critical component of language comprehension" (Hennessy, 2020, p. 61).

The trouble is, there is no easy way to fix a vocabulary deficit. There is a lot of words to learn! However, the strategies explained today are good place to start. At our school, we must keep in mind the fact that children from low-income families are exposed to far less words that their more affluent peers, making vocabulary instruction even more vital to reading comprehension.

"In high-poverty households, children were exposed to an average of 30 million fewer words in their early years than were their middle-income peers."

Connections to Syntax:

Syntax is the structure and organization of sentences. Some sentences are organized simply, i.e. "The cat slept in the bed", while other types of sentences are more syntactically complex. Students must have practice with sentence comprehension in order to fully break down and comprehend sentences with more complex syntactic structure. As students start getting into third, fourth, fifth grade and beyond, they start to encounter more and more linguistically-complex sentences.

  • Students organize a syntactically-complex sentence or sentences into different categories
  • Helps students break apart sentences and identify the "who, what, how, when, where, how, and why" of a complex sentence
  • Can be a review or application activity

Syntax Strategies: Words Working Together

  • Helps students understand and create a complete sentence.
  • Helps improve student knowledge of syntax and gives opportunity for application
  • Can help promote use of capitals and punctuation to complete sentences
  • Good opportunity to include concepts from previously read texts as a way to help deepen understanding
Source: Keep Reading and Learning. (n.d). Using Scrambled Sentences to Teach Sentence Writing. https://keepreadingandlearning.com/sentence-writing-scrambled-sentences/

Syntax Strategies: Sentence Anagrams

It is easy to see how syntax can affect overall comprehension. The language structures used in academic texts are very different than those used in everyday speech. It is easy to see why students who are good comprehenders can not only "recognize and retrieve the meaning of indivdual words but also 'work out the synantic structure and sense of the sentences'" (Hennessy, 2020. p. 92). Grammar and syntax must continue to be explicitly taught if we want to help our student's sentence and reading comprehension to improve.

Syntax and Comprehension


Child and Family Blog. (n.d.). The Vocabulary Gap and Its Long-Term Consequences for Children. https://childandfamilyblog.com/vocabulary- gap/#:~:text=Children%20who%20have%20grown%20up,they%20are%20less%20likely%20toEberhardt, N. C. (2019). Syntax: Somewhere between words and text. Perspectives on language and literacy, 45(2), 39-45.Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2020). Improving adolescent literacy: Content area strategies at work. Pearson Education, Inc.Hennessy, N. (2020). The Reading Comprehension Blueprint. Brookes Publishing. ISBN 13: 978168125403Keep Reading and Learning. (n.d). Using Scrambled Sentences to Teach Sentence Writing. https://keepreadingandlearning.com/sentence-writing-scrambled-sentences/Kendeou, P., van den Broek, P., Helder, A., & Karlsson, J. (2014). A cognitive view of reading comprehension: Implications for reading difficulties. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 29(1), 10–16. https://doi.org/10.1111/ldrp.12025Read Naturally. (n.d.). The 5 Components of Reading: Vocabulary. https://www.readnaturally.com/research/5-components- of-reading/vocabularyReally Great Reading. (n.d.). Scarborough's Reading Rope. https://www.reallygreatreading.com/content/scarboroughs- reading-rope